Silence! The Musical is very easy to digest (pun intended), as presented in the tightly directed current production now playing at the creatively configured 2nd Stage space of The Studio Theatre. A dark satire replete with savage wit and dancing, interactive lambs, the filmic source material (the 1991 Jody Foster-starring and Academy Award-winning film) has always been unsettling and disturbing as hell——how many people do you know who say they want to see the original film over and over?
I certainly do not know many people who rush to view the film that often (cannibalism and creating clothes out of human skin could be considered as especially grisly subject matter) and, thus, it is all the more interesting that Director Alan Paul and Company have pulled this off so adroitly. Credit a very integrated approach with top-of –the-line actors and technical components all merging together to produce a work that moves like clockwork through seventeen musical numbers (almost “sung through” but the Book by Hunter Bell has a barrel of great one-liners and puns—-)in a mere ninety-minutes of time.
Having seen the Off-Broadway production, I can definitely attest that Studio and Director Paul’s version is far superior in timing, casting, and technical aspects. Director Paul has wisely kept the approach very “tongue in cheek”, with each line delivered with “dead-on” timing and a breezy, spoofy attitude that works exceptionally well. Straight faces are kept by each cast member in every micro-second of this production and the essence of how to present this material seems to be instinctively understood.
A three-piece combo artfully plays the serviceable score by Joan Kaplan and Al Kaplan. Under the Music Direction of Christopher Youstra, the musical numbers nimbly advance the action and give the actor’s their shining moments. Interspersed with the primary musical numbers is a chorus of singing lambs that have been given goofy, creative bits of business and highly imaginative asides that fuel the murderous merriment. Jessica Beth Redish definitely helps to integrate the actors, chorus and dialogue successfully with her masterful choreographic patterns and movements. At times the Chorus, will delight with pelvic thrusts and arms extended in an almost “Fosse-esque” manner.
In the demanding lead role of Clarice, the FBI aspirant with dreams of grandeur, Laura Jordan is a comic revelation. With her “Lily Tomlin-like” rubbery, elastic expressions and movements coupled with her slightly nasal twang and earnest zeal in the role (she never drops her sense of the ironic even once), Jordan commands the stage. Perhaps the highpoint of numerous highpoints was her superb mock-rendition of “It’s Agent Shtarling”; throughout this number, Jordon was topping lines and spoofing the entire canon of all the Grande Dames of musicals. In the hilarious and physically frenetic duet with Dr. Lecter (Tally Sessions) entitled “Quid Pro Quo”, Jordan’s physical energy and agility was electric (and the Lighting Design by Andrew Cissna was particularly striking).
In the non-singing department, Jordan was just as superb. Her soliloquy on the quietude of the lambs after slaughter and her phone call full of alternating permutations of the line “Fuck You “ would have even playwright David Mamet convulsing with laughter.
As Hannibal Lecter, Tally Sessions portrayed the character as somewhat deceivingly wholesome and, consequently, delivered a fresh interpretation of a character that can be all too obvious. Lecter’s best number was the deliberately offensive song “If I Could Smell Her Cunt.” Sessions never made the mistake of playing the Lecter we have come to know from Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal.
In the dual roles of Catherine and Senator Martin, Hayley Travers was especially arresting as the banal and overtly literal-minded Senator. Travers’ rendition of “My Daughter is Catherine” was sung in an amusingly overwrought “mock-operetta” style replete with theatrical flourishes.
As Buffalo Bill, Tom Story was appropriately decadent especially when singing “I’d Fuck Me”—a hymn to masturbatory fantasies and all attendant psychoses.
As Dr. Chilton, the lithe Alan Naylor wins singing and acting honors as first runner-up —right after Ms. Jordan in theatrical prowess. Naylor moves like a dream and plays his character with just the right touch of pretension. His song “The Right Guide” (sung with Ms. Jordan) gave me a blissed-out feeling of pure euphoria. Naylor is totally at ease on the stage.
The actors Awa Sal Secka (Ardelia) and John Loughney (Jack Crawford) provided inspired support that was perfectly in tone with the mood of this very creative production.
Set Design by Jason Sherwood was a marvel and I do not want to give all the surprises away. I will only say that the entire theatre space has been turned into an intimate café with table seating. Elongated ramps extended from the proscenium very close to the audience. Instead of being over-utilized, the use of the ramps was all the more effective as they were only used when absolutely necessary to highlight a heightened moment of song or dialogue.
Sound Design by Lane Elms and Projection Design by Adrian Rooney was stellar. Special mention must be given to Costume Design by Frank Labovitz; it was alternately appropriate and outlandishly eye-catching.
Silence! The Musical has to be seen to be believed. Studio’s 2nd Stage’s production is another feather in Studio Theatre’s cap. Miss this one at your own peril!
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.